Gordon Jack is the co-author of the new book, The Survival Guide for Newly Qualified Child and Family Social Workers, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. He has more than 30 years’ experience in social work practice, education and research with children and families, and is currently Reader in Social Work at Durham University.
How did you first become involved in social work?
I think I probably have to blame my mother for that. I come from a family of five children, but despite the demands that this obviously placed on her, my mother has always found time to do regular voluntary work with disadvantaged or vulnerable groups of children and adults as well. I suppose this is where the seeds of my future social work career were sown.
What inspired you to write your new book?
I had been involved in social work education for many years, so I was well aware of the difficulties social workers face in the early stages of their carers, when they are trying to manage the pressures of their day-to-day work at the same time as continuing their professional development. Together with Helen Donnellan I was responsible for the delivery of a post-qualifying child care social work programme in the far south west of England, and we were interested in finding out more about how newly qualified practitioners were coping during the transition from student to established professional. Having completed the study, which involved a series of interviews with social workers (and their managers), we realized that the results carried a number of important messages, and that there were very few resources available to help newly qualified social workers in the early stages of their careers. The book is intended to fill this gap in the literature.
What do you think are the main challenges currently facing newly qualified child and family social workers?
The social workers in our study told us that the transition from the protected environment of being a student to that of a qualified worker was often extremely challenging, at both a professional and a personal level. In particular, they found it difficult to cope with the change from an emphasis on developing their learning and achieving ‘best practice’ as a student, to the demands of heavy workloads and an emphasis on meeting deadlines and seemingly endless record-keeping (often involving cumbersome IT systems) as a qualified worker. Whilst help with the practicalities of managing individual cases through supervision was appreciated, many newly qualified staff found that the need for critical reflection on their practice, as well as recognition of the emotional demands of the job and the importance of continuing professional development, were not so well recognised.
If you could give a newly qualified social worker one piece of advice what would it be?
I think it is important for newly-qualified social workers to understand that they won’t be able to develop a successful and satisfying career, in which they can make a sustained and positive contribution to the well-being of the children and families they are working with, unless they make sure that they look after themselves. It is also important that their employers are providing appropriate supervision and support arrangements and opportunities for continuing professional development that recognize the person within the developing professional.